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social psychology of terrorism

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  1. 1. Terrorism and Social Psychology Grant Heller “ Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” - William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1601)
  2. 2. Definitions of Terrorism <ul><li>There appears to be no one universally agreed upon definition of terrorism (Long, 1990). </li></ul><ul><li>United Nations : any act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act. (Article 2(b) of International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism , May 5, 2004) </li></ul><ul><li>The US Department of Defense, FBI, and State Department all have different definitions for the term. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Definitions of Terrorism <ul><li>Our definition of terrorism will depend on how we construe the groups involved and what behaviors we consider to constitute a terrorist act. </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, one’s terrorist, fanatic, or militant radical is another’s martyr, revolutionary, or freedom fighter. </li></ul><ul><li>Depending on your own views, figures such as British Colonel T.E. Lawrence “of Arabia” could either be a liberator or a terrorist. </li></ul><ul><li>Lawrence organized the 1916-1918 insurgency by Arab irregulars against the empire of the Ottoman Turks. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Types of Organizations <ul><li>Left-wing : Includes groups such as Germany’s Red Army Faction (RAF) and Italy’s Red Brigade (RB). Usually target specific political figures for kidnapping or murder. </li></ul><ul><li>Right-wing : Includes groups such as Hamas, Izz a-Din al Qassan, Al Queda. Usually engage in indiscriminate acts of violence against anyone who does not share their religious faith. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Types of Organizations <ul><li>Ethno-nationalist : Arguably falls somewhere inbetween left and right wing groups. Includes groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the Basque Separatists (ETA). </li></ul><ul><li>These organizations tend to be the longest living, and also have the most concrete goals. </li></ul><ul><li>Violence is primarily targeted at their specific rivals, but the casualties and extent of destruction is greater than that of Left-wing terrorists (Forster, 2005). </li></ul>
  6. 6. Types of Organizations <ul><li>Special interest extremists : Extreme fringe groups of animal rights, feminist, pro-life, environmental, anti-nuclear, etc. (O’Connor, 2005). </li></ul><ul><li>This is only one of many ways of classifying terrorist organizations, and the lines of demarcation are often blurred. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Profile <ul><li>Many models have attempted to characterize terrorists as being mentally ill…in reality this does not seem to be the case. </li></ul><ul><li>” The outstanding common characteristic of terrorists is their normality” (Crenshaw, 1981). </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is very rate to find a terrorist who suffers from a clinically defined ‘personality disorder’ or who could in any other way be regarded as mentally or psychologically deviant” (Silke, 1998). </li></ul><ul><li>As most terrorist acts require cooperation with others under stressful conditions, it is doubtful that mentally ill individuals would be quipped to successfully function in a terrorist organization (Forster, 2005). </li></ul><ul><li>Terrorist groups require discreet activists who are able to blend into the general population rather than extreme individuals who will draw attention to the group. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Profile <ul><li>“ Most, but not all, suicide terrorists are aged between 16 and 28. Most are male, but 15% are female and that proportion is rising. Most come from poor backgrounds and have limited education, but some have university degrees and come from wealthy families” (Merari, 1990). </li></ul><ul><li>Terrorist leaders are often older (30’s to 60’s), from middle to upper class backgrounds, and well educated (Hudson, 1999). </li></ul><ul><li>“ There is no single psychological profile of terrorists” (Merari, 1990). </li></ul>
  9. 9. Recruitment <ul><li>Beliefs about martyrdom through suicide terrorism are often taught to children at an early age. One source describes summer camps where children as young as 8 years were trained in military drills and taught about suicide bombing (Brooks, 2002). </li></ul><ul><li>Recruits are often treated with great respect in the community (Hudson, 1999). </li></ul><ul><li>The vast majority of terrorist organizations rely on schools, religious institutions, families, and word-of-mouth for recruitment (O’Connor, 2005) </li></ul>
  10. 10. Recruitment (O’Connor, 2005) <ul><li>Martyrdom in the name of Allah is said to carry the following benefits: </li></ul><ul><li>1.) Eternal life in paradise </li></ul><ul><li>2.) Permission to see the face of Allah </li></ul><ul><li>3.)The loving kindness of 72 virgins </li></ul><ul><li>4.) Family financial rewards of thousands of dollars </li></ul><ul><li>5.) Family increase in social status </li></ul>
  11. 11. Cults and terrorism <ul><li>Terrorist groups are similar to religious sects or cults (Hudson, 1999). </li></ul><ul><li>One of the major shifts in cults in the past twenty years is in their “acting out their leaders’ grievances against society in general or specific segments of it” (Schwartz, 1999). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g., David Koresh and The Branch Dividians </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ The majority of recruits are still idealists seeking someone or something in which to believe. They are bright, lonely, middleclass individuals who lack the “street smarts” to see through the friendly overtures, high-sounding rhetoric, and charismatic leadership…” (Schwartz & Kaslow, 2001). </li></ul>
  12. 12. Cults and terrorism (Myers, 2002) <ul><li>A Cult (or new religious movement) is group typically characterized by: </li></ul><ul><li>1.) distinctive rituals and beliefs related to its devotion to a god or a person </li></ul><ul><li>2.) isolation from surrounding “evil” culture </li></ul><ul><li>3.) a charismatic leader </li></ul>
  13. 13. Nine Features of Cults (Inman, 2002) <ul><li>1.) Totalism (black/white thinking, us vs. them, saved vs. damned, etc </li></ul><ul><li>2.) Stress, fatigue, and hunger </li></ul><ul><li>3.) Social disruption and social pressure: often by severing ties with family and friends. </li></ul><ul><li>4.) Self-criticism, humiliation, and elevating the group’s status </li></ul><ul><li>5.) Fears, anxieties, and paranoia to stop counter-arguing </li></ul><ul><li>6.) Control of information </li></ul><ul><li>7.) Escalation of commitment (cognitive dissonance, foot in the door) </li></ul><ul><li>8.) Auto-hypnosis </li></ul><ul><li>9.) Loading the language (Father, family, etc.) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Cult: Aum Shinrikyo <ul><li>An apocalyptic cult that conducted a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995. </li></ul><ul><li>12 died in the incident and up to 5000 were sent to the hospital. </li></ul><ul><li>What seems remarkable about this cult is that its leading members include Japan’s best and brightest: scientists, computer experts, lawyers, and other professionals. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Cults and terrorism <ul><li>Cult expert Margaret Singer of UC Berkley believes these demographics are not unusual. She states, “Cults actively weed out the stupid and the psychiatric cases and look for people who are lonely, sad, between jobs or jilted” (Hudson, 1999). </li></ul><ul><li>Marc Sageman (2004) studied biographical data from over 400 members of violent Islamic fundamentalist groups. </li></ul><ul><li>Sageman found that 70% of terrorists had joined while they were living as expatriates in other countries, looking for jobs and education. Prior to moving they did not describe themselves as being strongly religious. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Group Dynamics <ul><li>Terrorist groups display characteristics of Janis’ concept of Groupthink (Janis, 1972). </li></ul><ul><li>1.) Display illusions of invulnerability leading to excessive optimism and excessive risk taking. </li></ul><ul><li>2.) Presumptions of the group’s morality </li></ul><ul><li>3.) One-dimensional concepts of the enemy as “evil” </li></ul><ul><li>4.) Intolerance of challenges by a group member to shared key beliefs </li></ul>
  17. 17. Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis (Myers, 2002) <ul><li>Frustration is anything that blocks our attaining a goal. </li></ul><ul><li>Frustration grows when our motivation to achieve a goal is very strong, when we expected gratification, and when the blocking is complete. </li></ul><ul><li>The frustration can be dissipated through withdrawal from the situation, it can be turned inward, turned into direct aggression against the frustrator, or can be displaced on another source. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Relative Deprivation Hypothesis (Myers, 2002) <ul><li>Relative deprivation is the perception that one is not as well off as others to whom one compares oneself. </li></ul><ul><li>In WWII Air Corp members reported feeling more frustrated with their own rate of promotion than Military Police. While Air Corp members had a relatively rapid rate of promotion, it was not as predictable as the MP’s. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Social Learning Theory of Stereotypes (FAE) and of Aggression <ul><li>“ There is a natural inhibition against killing” (Beck, 2002). </li></ul><ul><li>Many American soldiers in the Korean War were discovered to be not firing their guns in battle. Examination of soldiers’ rifles revealed only about 20% showed any use of ammunition (Grossman, 1995). </li></ul><ul><li>To correct for this, soldiers in the Vietnam War were conditioned to kill by repeatedly shooting at targets of their enemy until the behavior became second nature (Grossman, 1995). </li></ul><ul><li>Ronald Jones’ Third Wave movement </li></ul>
  20. 20. Social Learning of Aggression (Bandura, et al., 1961) <ul><li>Social Learning Theory : the theory that we learn social behavior by observing and imitating and by being rewarded and punished (Myers, 2002). </li></ul><ul><li>Bandura had nursery school children (n=72) work on an interesting art project. There was either an aggressive or non-aggressive adult model in the next room that had a 5 foot inflatable “Bobo” doll. </li></ul><ul><li>Non-aggressive models ignored the doll and assembled tinker toys in a quiet and subdued manner. </li></ul><ul><li>The aggressive model repeatedly punched the doll, kicked it sat on it, threw it, struck it with a mallet, and verbally berated it. </li></ul>
  21. 21. (Bandura, et al., 1961) <ul><li>The aggressive adult attacks the doll for almost 10 minutes while yelling “sock it in the nose!...Knock him down!...Kick him!” </li></ul><ul><li>The child is then led to another room with many attractive toys. </li></ul><ul><li>After 2 minutes the experimenter removes the child from this room saying these are the best toys and that she must “save them for the other children.” </li></ul><ul><li>The child is then led to another room with various non-aggressive toys, and… </li></ul><ul><li>Bobo the doll and a mallet. </li></ul><ul><li>What do you think the children did? </li></ul>
  22. 22. (Bandura, et al., 1961)
  23. 23. (Bandura, et al., 1961) <ul><li>Females spent more time than boys playing with the doll, with the tea set, and coloring. Boys spent significantly more time in exploratory play with guns. </li></ul><ul><li>Girls who observed a non-aggressive model engaged in 0.5 mallet strikes, compared with 18.0 and 13.1 for girls in the aggressive and control condition (no significant difference between these two groups). </li></ul><ul><li>Those in the Aggressive group did engage in significantly more verbal aggression than the Controls. </li></ul><ul><li>Subjects in the non-aggressive condition engaged in significantly more non-aggressive play with the dolls that subjects in the aggressive group. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Dichotomous Thinking <ul><li>Terrorists view the world through the narrow lens of their own ideology (Hudson, 1999). </li></ul><ul><li>Dichotomization of our own policy </li></ul><ul><li>Presidential Declaration of War on Terrorism: </li></ul><ul><li>“Every nation now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Moral Disengagement (Bandura, 1999) <ul><li>Albert Bandura described four techniques for moral disengagement </li></ul><ul><li>1.) Terrorists may imagine themselves as saviors of a constituency threatened by a great evil to morally justify their actions. </li></ul><ul><li>2.) Responsibility for actions can be displaced onto other group members, leaders, or onto the enemy. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Moral Disengagement (Bandura, 1999) <ul><li>3.) Ignore or minimize exposure to the actual suffering of victims. </li></ul><ul><li>For example, the use of timed car bombs, booby traps, or mortar attacks insulates the terrorist from moral anxiety by not having to directly witness the damage. </li></ul><ul><li>4.) Victims of violence are dehumanized through the use of negative labels (Ingroup/Outgroup terminology). </li></ul>
  27. 27. Social Identity <ul><li>Turner and Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory (Myers, 2002) </li></ul><ul><li>Categorization : We categorize people by their characteristics </li></ul><ul><li>Identification : We associate with certain groups (our ingroups) to share a sense of belonging and common identity. </li></ul><ul><li>Comparison : We contrast out groups with other groups (outgroups), and have a favorable bias towards our own group (ingroup bias). </li></ul><ul><li>As with cults, members of terrorist organizations derive social identity and a sense of belonging from their group membership. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Problems with the media <ul><li>Terrorists want the attention of having center stage and the media gives it to them. </li></ul><ul><li>Suicidal terrorism “is not designed to be pragmatic or realistic, but symbolic and an effective media ploy” (O’Connor, 2005). </li></ul>
  29. 29. The effect of govt. issued terror warnings on presidential approval ratings? <ul><li>Bush’s Gallup poll job performance ratings jumped from 51% approval on Sept. 11, 2001 to 86% in the next poll released on Sept. 15, 2001. </li></ul><ul><li>There was also a significant increase in the unrelated approval rating of Bush’s handling of the economy </li></ul><ul><li>Rob Willer (2004) of Cornell University conducted a time series regression analysis on the effect of government-issued terror warnings on presidential approval ratings. </li></ul><ul><li>He hypothesized that social identity theory and the “halo effect” might explain these increased approval ratings. </li></ul><ul><li>Willer found a 2.75% approval rating increase per government-issued terror warning ( p < .05). </li></ul>
  30. 30. Questions?